Autumn is my favorite time for photographing in the Pacific Northwest. There are many places to capture autumn colors, but nothing quite compares to photographing fall foliage Mount Rainier. The Pacific Northwest and Mount Rainier make the perfect combination of elements needed for stunning images of fall photography. Not only is Mt Rainier known for its larger than life size, but also it picturesque lakes, waterfalls, meadows, and tundra.
Timing for capturing Fall Foliage
Although it varies year to year, I find the best time for fall foliage photography is the last week of September to Mid-October. The color usually lasts until the first week of November when the snow first starts. Check fall reports on the Internet and the Mt Rainier website for more up to date information. There are two main areas to visit when going to Mt Rainier National Park, the Paradise and the Sunrise sides. Both have excellent fall color and a host of different aspects to photograph.
Sunrise Side Locations
In my experience, the fall colors start a few weeks earlier on the Sunrise side. The best places to photograph on the Sunrise side are Yakima Peak, Emmons Glacier (Silver Forest Trail), and the Tipsoo Lake area. Take time to explore around Tipsoo Lake, especially the Naches Peak trail and both the Upper and Lower Tipsoo surrounding lakes. Early morning around Tipsoo Lake usually has a host of colors and mist that make for excellent atmospheric images. When photographing in late September the stunning sunrises make for great fall photography conditions.
In terms of the foliage, red huckleberry and larch is what you can expect to find on Mt Rainer. The other types of foliage you see are cottonwoods, willows, elderberry, aspen, tamarack (western larch) and evergreen trees. Although there are several types of fall foliage to shoot in Mt Rainier, my personal favorite is the Red Huckleberry. Visually, the red is very impactful and always sticks out above other fall foliage. When photographing try to incorporate the red huckleberry with areas of water like lakes and ponds. The reflection of the red foliage mirrored looks stunning. The first sign of fall color is the red huckleberry, followed by larches in the later stages of autumn.
Paradise Side Location
When it comes to photographing on the Paradise side of Mount Rainier I like to start off by looking for fall colors at the Paradise Inn. The area around the Inn has a great view of the mountain. The best displays of fall color right can be found right at the visitors center.
Heading up the pathway to Myrtle Falls, the fall colors and view of the mountain only get better. Try to incorporate waterfalls from the Paradise Side. Although the hike can be somewhat strenuous, the hike is worth it. If you keep along the path they converge into the Paradise Valley where the mountain is in full view. If you turn 180 degrees away from the mountain you get grand views of the Tatoosh range. The Tatoosh Range looks best at sunset.
When the weather looks active and the clouds are moving in, the Paradise Meadows also makes a great sunset spot. Sometimes the clouds block views of Mt Rainier. However, the colors on the Tatoosh Range look excellent. In essence, the Paradise Meadows is your safest bet if you are looking to capture some fall colors on the mountain. If you continue up the hill past Myrtle Falls, you will eventually reach the Mazama Ridge. It’s my favorite area to see the mountain and fall color. With wide-open meadows of vibrant color, and full views of the mountain it makes for an excellent combination.
The total hike in and out from the Mazama Ridge is about 4 miles. There are several areas to stop along the way to photograph fall colors. If you like to shoot reflection images of the mountain, you can’t do better than both the Reflection and Bench Lake areas. I always make an annual stop at these lakes early in the morning to capture both atmospheric mist and fall colors.The hikes around the lake also present many possibilities to shoot more intimate shots of autumn.If you are looking to capture images of fall color and forest scenes, then head into the Grove Of Patriarchs. Many short hikes in this forest provide stunning forest views of the tall trees and fall colors.
To get really creative, try photographing really low to the ground and aim straight up with the camera. Look to combine both fall colors and evergreen trees together. With so many places to photograph on Mt Rainier, you always have many options available. If you are lucky enough to live close to the mountain, September is a great time to watch the mountain for unusual weather activity. The elevation of Mt Rainier is so high it creates its own weather system. Therefore, your chances of seeing unusual weather patterns like lenticular cloud buildup is quite possible.
In layman terms, lenticular clouds are those clouds that look like UFO’s in the sky. They are caused by encounters with obstructions in the sky like very high mountain peaks. Known also as “wave clouds” they make for very interesting patterns and when combined with fall colors make for ideal conditions. In autumn, I check the webcams quite often looking for a buildup of these clouds as it takes often several hours to develop. The Paradise Valley makes for one of the best spots to see this unique weather pattern. Another place that I will often see these weather patterns is along the Silver Forest Trail, which is about .5 of a mile from the parking lot at the Sunrise Visitor Center.
Combine all of the elements of unusual weather, stunning sunrises, and atmospheric conditions and Mt Rainier makes for the perfect autumn spot to photograph. So if you are in Pacific Northwest in autumn be sure to put Mt. Rainer on your list place to visit to capture spectacular fall foliage photos.